Most of us tend to talk about actions that are already over. In other words, we like to either reminisce about the good moments or discuss our past life events to add value to an ongoing conversation. Hence, it becomes essential for learners to understand the uses of each of the past tenses. Nonetheless, many students face issues dealing with the past continuous and the past perfect continuous. They find it hard to figure what exactly is the difference between these two tenses. Thus, in this post, we have listed all the differences we feel you ought to know. So, if you’re ready, let’s begin!
When to Use the Past Continuous and the Past Perfect Continuous?
Use the past continuous to talk about an action that was going on at a specific time. Howbeit, use the past perfect continuous to denote actions that went on for a while but had got over before the other action commenced. Study the following example sentences to understand this difference better. In each of the sentences, the verbs are in italics.
- Hey! Do you know I was residing at a hotel this time last year?
- Was your mother making dinner at eight o’clock last night?
- I think my brother was playing chess with his friend at ten in the morning.
- When we stepped out this morning, the corridor was wet. It had been raining.
- Do you see the broken window? I suppose some children had been playing cricket in the park outside.
Note that in the first three sentences, we have used the past continuous tense. However, in the last two sentences, we have used the past perfect continuous. Clearly, the first three sentences denote actions that were going on at a specific point of time in the past. But what about the last two sentences? Well, they talk about actions that went on for a while before another action commenced.
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Time Matters: Another Difference
Remember to use the past continuous to talk about an action that was going on when another action took place. Nonetheless, if you wish to mention how long a particular activity was in progress, use the past perfect continuous. Well, do you find it confusing? Fret not, check out the example sentences underneath to understand this difference better.
- My father was watching the news when I arrived home. BUT My father had been watching the news for an hour when I arrived home. (You can also say: When I arrived home, my father was watching the news./ When I arrived home, my father had been watching the news for an hour.)
- He was speaking with his friend when I phoned him. BUT He had been speaking with his friend for ten minutes when I phoned him.
- When we entered the staff room, the teacher was reading a book. BUT When we entered the staff room, the teacher had been reading a book for around ten minutes.
While referring to two actions, use the past continuous tense to talk about the action that was in progress and use the simple past tense to say the the action that occurred while the other action was ongoing. If you, nevertheless, wish to talk about two simultaneous actions, say both the clauses in the past continuous tense.
In the example sentences we have given, the actions of arriving, phoning and entering happened while watching, speaking, and reading went on. Evidently, they were not simultaneous. Nonetheless, we can say something like ‘While I was studying, my mother was doing household chores.’ In this sentence, the actions of studying and doing household chores were simultaneous.
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Be Perfect! Never Forget Your Past
You can construct a sentence in the past perfect continuous tense to say something that had been happening for a while before something else happened. In this case, you cannot use the past continuous tense. While this rule is similar to the first one, there is a subtle difference. Look at the example sentences underneath to understand this better.
- He gave up drinking a couple of years ago. He had been drinking for nearly three decades.
- We moved to Delhi three years ago. We had been living in the countryside for five years.
- My father founded a company last year. He had been working for the government for close to thirty-five years.
Now, compare these sentences with the ones you find below:
- He gave up drinking after he’d been diagnosed with a liver ailment.
- We moved to Delhi because we were not comfortable living in the village.
- My father founded a company after he’d quit his government job.
While the first three sentences mention a time period, the last three do not. They, however, give a reason for the actions or say what had happened right before. While referring to two past events, we use the past perfect to say the action that happened first and the simple past to denote the whatever took place after.
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Categories: English Lessons